The stories of the "folks" we met yesterday at the Open House at the Center for Great Apes in rural Florida were heartbreaking but also ultimately heartwarming. We drove 90 minutes to the sanctuary - which is only open to members three or four times a year. And here is why- the vast amount of this post is information from the website for the Center for Great Apes.
The status of some endangered species such as great pandas, whales and sea lions is widely known. Less known, however, is that both chimpanzees and orangutans are endangered species as well. Chimpanzees, numbered between 1 and 2 million at the turn of the 20th century. Today there are estimated to be fewer than 120,000 chimpanzees remaining in the wild. The numbers for orangutans are even more sobering, with the current population estimated to be less than 60,000.
The line was long upon our arrival at the appointed hour- we dropped off our donations from the wish list- we had brought a heavy duty container with things from Costco- lots of pasta, olive oil, honey, prunes, peanut butter, oatmeal (all in industrial sizes LOL)
We headed into the sanctuary and the first stop we made was at the greeter station manned by Popi -
- it was then we first saw the layout of the sanctuary and the amazing facility they have there-
In the midst of the tropical forest surroundings, the chimpanzees and orangutans each live and play in one of the twelve large three-story high domed enclosures. The largest of these outdoor living areas are from 50- to 80-feet long and 34-feet tall. The habitats provide plenty of running room, climbing space and height for swinging through their environment. All outdoor ape habitats have a variety of climbing structures and swinging vines as well as numerous toys, tubs, culverts, and enrichment devices. Additionally, there are three other enclosures for quarantining new arrivals and a special ape habitat for our handicapped and geriatric apes.
Each large ape habitat has attached night houses that not only provide a place to sleep at night, but also a place to rest during the day if the apes wish to retreat from summer rainstorms or the hot Florida sun. The night houses have high nesting areas, hammocks, and bed-shelves. They are heated in the winter and are strong enough to safely withstand Florida hurricanes. All indoor and outdoor habitats have security cameras and audio monitors so the staff can see day and night from several locations that the apes in each night house are safe and well.
Our residents are free to explore, using a unique feature of our facility - an elevated tunnel system which meanders more than one and a half miles through the property. This chute system connects all the enclosures allowing both the orangutans and the chimpanzees the liberty to run through the woods and across the creek. They enjoy going over to watch other groups of apes at the sanctuary as well as following the staff and visitors around the Center.
A specially designed indoor and outdoor area suited to the unique needs of handicapped and older apes was completed in 2008. The first resident was our young chimpanzee with cerebral palsy, Knuckles. The outdoor areas are designed to be long, but narrow so that while residents have 60-feet of "walk-ahead" space, they are only 15-feet away from any of several doors leading into the night rooms. So, when a big storm is coming, or very cold weather is near, the staff has only a short distance to bring them inside for safety.
The inside rooms of the ape habitat have special adaptations also. One entire cage wall moves to gently push a resident back to a corner so that when there is the need to administer treatment or medication, the ape can be contained and safely handled through the cage mesh by the caregiver staff. There is also special rubber flooring installed to insulate and cushion against injury. Video and audio equipment installed here allows 24-hour monitoring by the staff.
so here is Popi working on a treat filled with peanut butter-
every one of the volunteers told us that all the apes were excited about the visitors because they know that they get extra treats and because we are curiosities to them as they rarely get outside visitors. About 60% of the residents are taking part in the open house - and at every station there are knowledgeable volunteers to answer questions that we all have about these wonderful beings.
Here is Popi's story-
Popi was born at the Yerkes Primate Research Center in Atlanta. She was sold by Yerkes to a famous circus trainer who worked her in Hollywood movies, commercials and TV shows. When she was only seven or eight years old, Popi starred as the girlfriend of orangutan “Clyde” in the two movies Every Which Way But Loose and Any Which Way You Can, starring Clint Eastwood. She also starred in Going Ape with Tony Danza and Danny DeVito.
During this time, this circus trainer also worked Popi and several other younger orangutans in a Las Vegas nightclub show for two decades. While working at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas, a dancer in the show filmed the trainer backstage hitting his orangutans on the head and body minutes before each performance for seven days in a row. Public outcry ensued, and Popi was at the center of what became the first animal welfare lawsuit to raise critical questions about the treatment of great apes in entertainment.
At the end of the legal case against the trainer, he left the country but sent Popi and his other orangutans to a California entertainment compound. Popi was at this Hollywood training compound for several years until she was moved to the Great Ape Trust in Iowa in 2008. When the Great Ape Trust downsized their operation in 2011, the Center for Great Apes accepted Popi, along with female orangutan Allie, and they both arrived at our sanctuary in January of 2012.
(Note: Popi’s mother was captured as a baby in Borneo and shipped to Yerkes in Atlanta in 1963. On that same day, 19 other babies arrived at Yerkes from Borneo, including Mari’s mother and Radcliffe’s mother – all still infants in 1963. We notice a strong likeness between Popi and Radcliffe in their close-set eyes, their very dark color, and their unusually long fingers and toes. It is most likely that Popi and Radcliffe are closely related as cousins with parents related in the wild as half-siblings from a dominant male in the area where they were captured).
next we ran into Linus in one of the trail overheads (also called Chutes) that give the residents the freedom to explore a wide area of the sanctuary-
Linus is very shy and such a sweetie-
Linus arrived at the Center for Great Apes in 2006 along with the orangutan, Kiki, and chimpanzee, Mickey. All three apes were sold to a private owner when they were infants, but had grown too large to handle, so they were kept in separate cages in a garage for most of their lives. When Linus suddenly started to tear apart his tiny cage in order to escape, his owner asked the sanctuary to take all three great apes immediately.
Due to years of lack of exposure to sunlight in his garage cage, and limited space for movement and exercise, Linus could barely walk. He trembled constantly and becoming winded from the slightest exertion. His hair was matted with pounds of feces and it took caregivers many months of effort to groom him through the mesh and cut out the mats. Through it all, Linus was patient and gentle.
When Linus stepped outside into the sunshine for the first time at the sanctuary, he turned his huge face up to the sky and stared. As he gained more space outdoors, he learned to lumber around his enclosure, make his way into the chute system, and eventually climb to the top of his dome.
Linus is huge. His head and facial flanges (cheekpads) are nearly twice the size of our other adult male orangutans. Linus' hair, now clean and shiny, frames his cheekpads and serene face. Linus is fascinated by textures, particularly fabrics, and he also hoards paper products such as cardboard boxes, paper bags, and wrapping paper. Every time he moves indoors or outside, he carefully gathers up all his blankets, boxes, and bags and carries them with him wherever he goes.
now might be a good time to talk about the inspiring story of the founder Patti Ragan
The Center for Great Apes has its beginning roots in the rain forests of Indonesian Borneo, where over 31 years ago, in 1984, founder Patti Ragan spent several months volunteering on a rehabilitation project for wild orangutans. During this intense time of living with orangutans and gaining experience caring for orphaned infants, Patti learned to love and appreciate the quiet and gentle nature of orangutans.
Because of her experience with orangutans in Borneo, Patti was asked in 1990 to help care for a four-week old infant orangutan who was held at a tourist attraction in Miami. Believing that the infant was going to eventually be sent to live with other orangutans at an AZA accredited zoo, she was surprised to learn that the owner intended to sell the baby orangutan to a circus trainer. However, because of a serious illness that affected the infant, he was not sold and the owner agreed to allow Patti the opportunity to find an appropriate home for the infant.
She soon learned that accredited zoos did not want a mixed Bornean/Sumatran orangutan, especially one that was hand-raised. Realizing that there were no opportunities for placement in an accredited zoo, and that there would never be a chance for him to live in the wild, Patti set out to find a sanctuary for the orangutan infant. However, at that time, there were no sanctuaries in the United States that had orangutans or experience caring for them.
While still volunteering to care for the infant orangutan, the Miami tourist attraction owner asked Patti to also give foster care to a three-month-old baby chimpanzee for a few months. She learned that that infant chimpanzee was to be sold to another tourist attraction in Orlando. So, she decided to start a sanctuary for not only orangutans, but for chimpanzees also.
After formally establishing a nonprofit organization in 1993, it took four more years to find the perfect location for a sanctuary site that was both affordable and would meet the needs of the apes. She found that place in Wauchula, a small rural community in southern central Florida. Starting with 15 acres of beautiful and tropical wooded habitat surrounded by orange groves and away from development, the sanctuary has now grown to over 100 acres.
Those first two infants Patti cared for became the first great ape residents of the sanctuary. Pongo, the infant orangutan, is now a magnificent adult male in his 20s and weighs over 270 pounds. Grub, the infant chimpanzee, became the dominant and powerful leader of his group of chimpanzees and one of the most loved chimpanzees at the sanctuary. Sadly, Grub passed away from a terminal illness in 2011 when he was just 20 years old.
and here was her message for the open house-
We next ran into Bambam before checking out some fun places where the residents can spend their time if they choose-
Then we saw Allie and Louie (big guy Louie shown below) unfortunately I didn't get too much of a shot of Allie as she was swinging from her hoses and always inmotion-
Allie was born at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, Georgia. When she was eighteen months old, she and her mother were transferred to the Denver Zoo. Sadly, when Allie was only six years old her mother died unexpectedly. Within three months of her mother's passing, Allie became ill with Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIDP), so Allie has no use of her legs or feet. She isn't paralyzed and can still feel pain, but has a loss of strength and cannot walk. She moves around her habitat and night house using fire hose "vines" to swing from place to place. With physical therapy exercises and stretches, her caregivers are hoping to improve her mobility.
Allie is one determined female who knows what she wants! She absolutely fell in love with the big cheekpadder male, Louie, and the two have been inseparable since they were introduced. He seems to be aware of her disability and will even place his hand on her back to steady her as she moves from the nesting platforms in the habitat to a fire hose “vine.” She enjoys watching Sesame Street videos and adores playing with water and bubble baths. She is very social and enjoys meeting the other orangutans at the sanctuary, especially the big cheekpadder males. She absolutely fell in love with the big cheekpadder male, Louie, and the two have been inseparable since
Louie is a very sweet and shy orangutan. During his adolescence, he enjoyed playing with the other orangutans at the Center. His best friend and constant companion was orangutan male, BamBam. Both boys would tumble, wrestle, tickle, and chase each other through the woods in the aerial chute system for several years. Now that Louie has grown his adult "cheekpads," he does not want to share the same territory with another adult male.
Currently, Louie's favorite friend at the sanctuary is Allie. He is very gentle with her and seems to be very aware of her disabilities, treating her carefully and gently when interacting with her. Louie loves bubble baths and fastidiously washes everything in sight, including himself. His favorite foods are fruits, but he also likes a variety of leafy greens like collards, bok choy, and kale.
For the first year of his life, Louie lived at the Miami tourist attraction. When he was only eleven months old, he was sold by the owner to work at an attraction. When he was seven, he became too strong for the trainers to safely handle, so his show days were ended. He arrived at the Center for Great Apes in 2005.
we made our way through some of the orangs and found ourselves in Chimpanzee territory- LOL with Marco and Butch and then on to several larger groups -
Marco is the oldest great ape at the sanctuary and arrived here in November 2005 after living alone for 30 years in a tiny backyard cage in South Carolina.
He was born in the wilds of Africa, and when his mother was shot and killed by poachers, Marco was taken to be sold and shipped to North America. He ended up with a circus family and performed in a small traveling circus in Oklahoma. When the circus trainers bought him, he had rickets (a nutritional deficiency of vitamin D). The rickets possibly affected his development and overall size because Marco is the smallest adult male chimpanzee most people have seen.
At 55 years old, Marco weighs only about 80 pounds (a full-grown, adult male weighs 145 to 180 pounds in captivity). People sometimes think he looks like a miniature gorilla because Marco has a very square-shaped hip and rear end stance with a lot of silver hair on his back.
When his circus owners retired, they sold the other chimpanzees in their act, but kept Marco as a pet since he was the youngest and smallest. So, for the next 30 years, he lived alone at their home never seeing another chimpanzee. When he arrived at the Center for Great Apes, he was very nervous around the other chimps, but eventually was successfully introduced to Butch, another wild-caught older ex-circus chimpanzee. Butch and Marco are now the best of friends and don’t like to be parted from each other.
after viewing the groups we went to see if Knuckles was up to seeing people but he was pretty much just napping in his hammock and visitors were greeted by his caretaker- sadly he has lost his ape companions and now has only his people caregivers-
Knuckles arrived at the Center for Great Apes from a California entertainment compound when he was only two years old. He was affected with cerebral palsy due to a lack of oxygen during his birth. His challenges were motor and muscle control, a weakness on the left side, and a lazy eye that didn’t allow him to focus on things.
Most two-year-old chimpanzees swing around actively and climb to tall heights, but Knuckles could not climb and barely walked when he arrived. When he was placed somewhere, he would just sit there until someone moved him. Although he couldn’t easily feed himself, he would eat if someone fed him.
Early MRI tests and EEG scans suggested that he was not likely to advance much and would stay the same or get worse. However, Knuckles has made steady progress and our expectations for him are all good.
After years of help from several dedicated volunteers and staff… as well as therapy from occupational and physical therapists who donated their time to help Knuckles, he has learned to feed himself, climb up and down steps, and pull himself up on special swings to hang upside down and play. He walks wherever he wants to go and is very aware and cognizant of activities around him. Knuckles likes to play and be tickled, and is very affectionate.
From the time of his arrival, he was introduced to Grub’s group through the mesh while still an infant. Grub, Toddy, Kenya, Brooks, and Noelle seemed to know Knuckles was “special” and were very gentle with him. He eventually began having play sessions one-on-one inside the habitat with each of these chimpanzees, but Grub was always the most gentle with Knuckles and often spent sitting next to him grooming him.
Taking on the challenge of raising a severely handicapped chimpanzee had to be carefully considered when we were approached to take Knuckles at the sanctuary. But, he has continued to exceed most expectations of his potential and abilities and has enriched the lives of not only the chimpanzees he interacts with, but also the staff, volunteers, and visitors who have been inspired by him.
Our goal has always been to get Knuckles to the point where he can have the companionship of other chimpanzees. Now an adult male (and more than 130 pounds), his physical therapy from staff still continues but is limited.. Knuckles lives in a special needs habitat built to make movement more manageable for him, and he shared that space with the elderly chimpanzees Clyde and Toddy.
Sadly both Clyde and Toddy have passed away...
Then it was back to the organs- where we saw Harry and Chuckie and Radcliffe and the favorite - Mari....
the caregivers told us that although the residents can go pretty much anywhere they want inside or out in the enclosures most of them prefer the chutes as there seems to be a natural security for the orangs in having something overhead as they do in their native habitat of the rainforest canopy-
you can see from this shot that the outdoor enclosures are several stories high and have many places to rest and play-
below Harry swings from hose to hose showing his prowess to the visitors - we are his favorite attraction for the day - his toys hold no interest while there are people around
Harry, with his beautiful long hair and round cheekpads, is a fully-flanged adult male orangutan. Originally born in Miami at the same facility as some of our other CGA residents, Harry is related to several of our orangutans. In fact, he looks almost identical to his full brother BamBam. BamBam is 14 months older than Harry, but Harry is much larger!
With his sweet and agreeable disposition, Harry is charming his new caregivers and has been particularly interested in watching the noisy chimpanzees nearby. He’s eating very well and has started to explore the grounds in our aerial trailway chutes.
Harry’s background was in the entertainment business in California for a few years, but most recently he lived in Central Florida. We’re very grateful that his owner decided to give Harry the opportunity for sanctuary care for the rest of his life.
then a few more stops before Mari.... Kiki- below and Jam second below-
Kiki was sold as an exotic pet and spent the first 20 years of her life in a garage in New Jersey. When she first arrived at the Center for Great Apes in the summer of 2006, she was extremely obese, having lived most of her life in a tiny cage that allowed her no freedom of movement or exercise. As a pet in a private home (along with her half-brother Linus and chimpanzee Mickey) she grew too large to be handled, so was moved to the basement garage for well over a decade. Besides having little opportunity for exercise, she had a varied diet that included many sweets and junk food. She could hardly get around and could only waddle.
Kiki has now lost over 100 pounds. This is thanks in part to Jam, her adolescent male orangutan companion who keeps her moving and very active. She also enjoys a much-improved diet with proper nutrition, including lots of leafy greens and her favorite, plumbago flowers and leaves.
Jam was born at a Hollywood entertainment compound and would have been worked in television and entertainment, but his trainer decided to stop working great apes. So Jam arrived at the sanctuary when he was only three years old, in the company of BamBam and Pebbles. He was reunited with his mother, Geri, but was afraid of Sammy, his very large “cheekpadder” father. When Sammy was occupied elsewhere, Jam would often spend time playing and grooming with Geri. As he matured, Jam was introduced to Kiki, and they hit it off immediately.
Jam is very engaging with the staff and volunteers at the sanctuary, and loves to show off his swinging skills on the fire hose “vines” hanging in his habitat. He also enjoys sledding through the aerial chutes and down the slants on his plastic toys. Always ready for a game of chase and full of youthful mischief, Jam is slowly starting to show signs of maturity and will soon be getting his cheekpads.
And finally the beloved Mari - darling Mari- our last stop- she was the one everyone asked about- "where's Mari?" we kept hearing as we made our way around the park.... and this charmer has everyone entranced with her can do capabilities and her "book" smarts.... her adoring fans were thrilled to see her and bring her books and puzzles to entertain her.....
Mari, a pure Sumatran orangutan, came to the Center from a research facility in Georgia where she was part of a language and cognition study. Mari is a very unusual orangutan in that she has no arms. She lost both her arms while still an infant when her mother, in a very agitated state, damaged her limbs beyond repair. In spite of the accident, Mari is a very capable orangutan. She uses her chin to hoist herself up, uses her feet as we would our hands, and she walks upright (or rolls when she wants to get somewhere quickly). Initially, we were concerned that she might have difficulty maneuvering in a new environment, but she quickly proved us wrong. She moves with such ease and grace that sometimes we forget that she is missing her arms.
Mari and Pongo live together in a habitat with platforms specifically built for Mari’s limitations (not that she needs concessions). When Pongo was an adolescent, but still much larger than Mari, he would retreat into a bucket or tub to get away from the intimidating stare Mari gave him if she wasn’t in the mood for play.
At the Language Research Center at Georgia State University where Mari spent many years before coming to the sanctuary, Mari worked with lexigrams, mazes, puzzles, and memory tasks. She could even solve computer mazes by manipulating a joystick with her feet, and still enjoys doing that at the sanctuary with a laptop donated specifically for her. Mari is an extremely smart orangutan, and we are always brainstorming to create different activities to keep her challenged and active. Her newest interest is playing on an iPad, generously donated to her from the group, Orangutan Outreach.
The visit was lovely- we had cookies and water while the auction winners and raffle ticket winners were announced and Patti gave us a short speech about the Hurricane (the eye went directly overhead) and the damage (over $100K in clean up - tree removal costs alone) and the old age loss of Toddy (mentioned through tears by more than just Patti)
Toddy was one of our oldest and most beloved chimpanzee residents at the Center. She passed away in June of 2017 from congestive heart failure. We are truly heartbroken as 45-year-old Toddy had lived with us at the sanctuary for 19 years, and was one of our oldest apes here.
Toddy started her life in Africa in the early 1970’s where she was captured from her mother to be sold on a street corner in Kinshasa, Zaire. When her mother was killed, infant Toddy was hit by some of the bullet fragments which lodged in her brain, and even though some of them were surgically removed when she was two years old, other fragments remained throughout her life.
When the people who bought her in Zaire came back to the U.S., they decided they couldn’t keep her and resold her to a family who cared for Toddy for seven years raising her in their home along with their human children. Toddy was very loved there, but as she grew and became stronger, they finally realized that a growing chimpanzee could not live safely in a human household. Toddy then was moved to a number of places including a primate tourist attraction in Homestead and a horse farm in Ocala.
At about 9 or 10 years old, Toddy ended up in Miami at a compound where she lived with other chimpanzees giving birth to a number of babies while there. We know that her first two infants were sold to a tourist attraction in Michigan, and then another female infant in 1987 (Chelsea) was sold to a California trainer for live stage shows. In 1991, Toddy gave birth to twin males, but they both died within a day. In 1993, Toddy gave birth for the final time to a female (Kenya) who was pulled from Toddy the day she was born and eventually lived at a Miami tourist attraction until she was moved to our sanctuary in Wauchula in 1998. A few months after Kenya arrived in Wauchula, Toddy was also moved from the breeder’s compound to our sanctuary and was finally reunited with her daughter. Toddy gave birth to at least 6 infants, but Kenya is the only offspring she ever knew.
Her first decade at the sanctuary was spent living with our original youngsters Grub, Kenya, and Noelle. Little Noelle was only 3 years old when Toddy arrived, and for the first year Noelle slept with Toddy…finally giving her a chance to be an “auntie” and raise infant Noelle. Over the years, Brooks and Mowgli joined that group, and Toddy had good relationships with all the chimpanzees. As Toddy aged though, she began to have difficultly climbing the tall structures in her four-story high habitat, and the play-time of youngsters Mowgli and Noelle became a little too active for Toddy.
While Toddy had many chimpanzee relationships in her life, the most meaningful to me was her late-life romance with Clyde. She was the only chimpanzee friend Clyde had in his 49+ years after he was pulled from his mother in Africa. When Clyde first arrived at the Center after living 45 years in an Ohio garage, he was frightened of most of the chimpanzees he saw here. But when he was introduced to Toddy, Clyde “fell” for her in a big way! For nearly five years, Clyde and Toddy were completely devoted to each other – playing slow games of “chase”, grooming each other, sharing food, and even resting together after playing “tickle”. It was a wonderful time for both Clyde and Toddy, and these two dear, elderly chimps captured the hearts of all our staff, volunteers, and friends.
When Clyde died at nearly 50 years old, Toddy was with him on his last day and kissed him on his face, bringing tears to all of us.
After Clyde passed away, Toddy continued her relationships with her first chimpanzee family here spending most weekends with Noelle or Mowgli. Toddy also became a companion to Knuckles, our young male chimpanzee with cerebral palsy. Toddy was wonderfully gentle with Knuckles… and with all her experience with chimpanzees, she knew how to handle his awkward efforts to be friends with her. Toddy made a huge difference in Knuckles’ life giving him the opportunity to have chimpanzee companionship that was safe for him with his physical disabilities. Toddy’s friendship with Knuckles was a blessing for him… and my heart breaks as her passing is a huge loss for Knuckles.
Last year, we discovered another amazing relationship for Toddy. Her daughter Chelsea (now 30) who was sent to California as an infant to work in entertainment was later sent to the Noichi Zoo in Japan. Chelsea had an infant in Japan (Milky) who also has cerebral palsy like Knuckles. Milky’s caregivers and physical therapists in Japan traveled to see us in Wauchula this year in order to learn more about Knuckles and his progress over the years so that the information might help Milky. They also wanted to meet Milky’s grandmother, Toddy. (Toddy and Milky look very much like each other, and we featured them in our most recent newsletter.)
As Toddy’s health declined in the month before she passed, we stayed close to her keeping watch around the clock. Toddy knew she was loved and being comforted. She wanted us to brush her back and once in a while would ask for a game of “chase” (but only a few feet or so). At the worst time for her when she couldn’t even sit up, she still bobbed her head in a play gesture “talking” in her soft hoots.
So if any of this has touched you in any way please consider becoming a member/supporter of the Center for Great Apes - where the work continues - and as noted below a huge thanks to all the volunteers who made it possible for these beings to end their lives living in a place where they are given respect and dignity. Maybe someday you will be lucky enough to visit during an open house for members and their guests as we did yesterday.
As the only accredited orangutan sanctuary in the country and one of a handful of accredited chimpanzee sanctuaries, The Center for Great Apes has been rescuing great apes for almost 25 years. The Center for Great Apes does not receive funding from the government; we are supported by generous donations from people like you who care about the future of these majestic and sensitive creatures, senselessly removed from their natural habitat and mothers as infants. By making the Center for Great Apes a philanthropic priority, members of the Great Ape Society help ensure the long-term care of the apes and the future of the sanctuary.
a wonderful day- so heartwarming to hear these stories of rescue after such heartbreaking lives! Long live Patti Ragan and her work!